Movies That Hate You: Elektra [2004, Jennifer Garner]

Note:  This is not the Shannon Tweed Cinemax Softcore Movie of the Same Name.

Sliced Summary:

An assassin is chased by a clan of Japanese Ninjas when they discover the whereabouts of a young girl who holds the key to prophecy.

Review and Analysis:

This movie is bad.

This movie is beyond bad.

This movie is terrible.  And I’m talking American Ninja terrible.  Except, in this movie, there is no Steve James to blunt the trauma.

The Mood:

From start to finish, this movie is dull.    The colors rendered in this movie are dreary.  I suppose the idea the production staff had for this film was “Serious,” but this movie was so damp and slow that it couldn’t even get out of its own way.  Movies about assassins and hired killers are Bad News Blues to begin with; attempting to make one with such a character as a reluctant hero makes it worse.

On the Wrong Hand Foot:

Not even a full minute into the start of this movie and already I want to load the Photon Torpedoes for launch.  Let’s start, first, with this:

Of course, "The One" is White. She's supposed to be Greek, but is played by a WASP. In an 'Asian' Prophecy.

Someone had a “wonderful” idea.  The movie was going to involve quite a bit of misdirection:  Make the audience believe that the prophecy in question was concerning Elektra Natchios.  Then, as the movie goes on, we actually find out that Abby, a rather annoying character, is the real Chosen One.  And that Elektra would be charged with protecting her.  It doesn’t go over well.

Moral of the story:  Appropriating other cultures is bad enough.  Simply changing the status from White Male to White Female does not make it any better.  If this was supposed to a nod to the ideal of Feminism or Female Empowerment or any similar marketing gimmick, it only gives credence to those who critique Feminism on its virtual ignorance to the plight and struggles of Women of Color.

And given how this movie plays out, there is plenty of evidence.

What’s Wrong With These Pictures:

Comic Books Should Just Quit the Martial Arts Game. They Know Nothing As it is. Maybe they should kneel before him, anyway.

Change the Gender of One of the People Here and the Movie Gets Examined. Hint: Not the Man of Color Getting His Spleen Handed to Him.

One of the things that happens in American media productions centers around the appropriation of cultures, languages, arts, and imagery from others, particularly cultures centered in East and Central Asia, as well as the Middle East and Northern Africa.  The tendency is to have the (White) hero(ine) trained in the arts that were created and developed by the natives of the lands.  And be better at it than any Person of Color could hope to be.

In this case, the “serenity” of Japan, somehow recreated in Pacific Northwest, at a Dojo where the only men of color we see are the ones getting beaten sideways by Elektra.  And their “master” of the Ancient, Secret, Asian Special Art is…

…General Zod.

You’ll see why this becomes a problem later.

We’ve Been Down This Road:

When it was Daredevil.  we open with the establishment of her skills – which in her case, involve a man whom she has targeted for termination…although we aren’t told why.  Instead, we get more “dark” music and really bad one-liners before she kills him.

Once we get past the Evil Japanese Conglomerate offering the Red Herring of going after Chosen One Elektra…where they are really referring to Chosen One Abby, the next 8 minutes of the film is spent trying to humanize a woman whose job is solely to take money from a client – and kill whomever that client says they want dead.  No questions asked.

Oh yes, let’s not forget that the backstory that was established in Daredevil for Elektra, namely her 20 Sensei training, has pretty much been thrown overboard.  Although I have to wonder if Ms. Natchios was as skilled as she is portrayed in this film, how did she get the daylights punched out of her by Bullseye?

The Problem With “Righteous” Assassinations:

Seriously? You'd have better luck with a SWAT-issue sniper weapon.

No such righteousness exists in such kills, despite the bleating of armchair warmongers.

Let’s look at, for example, Elektra’s first “kill” in this movie.  The man whom she has been sent to kill never makes clear what his actual “crimes” are.  We have to look at what measures he has taken to protect himself from her, which include the standard no-name Blackwater/Xe security force that we are to assume are only hired by Bad Guys.

Plus, we have to infer what possible “Evil” her first victim has done with the statement of:

“When you’ve done the things I’ve done, you make a lot of enemies.”

And that’s it.  Nothing else is said regarding what he’s actually done.  Or, for that matter, who hired her for the job and why.  Elektra herself never bothers to clue us in her ethics and morals when it comes to who she’ll try to kill and when she does not.  But it becomes clear that she will take the money for any job, as long as its enough to her (and her agent’s) standards.

But we aren’t supposed to think along those lines in Elektra, because she is the character that we as the audience are supposed to root for and get behind.  Instead, like Daredevil, we do not question the idea of Superhuman Judgement; it is always assumed that she would never set herself out to kill someone who is considered innocent, like children.

But paid assassins do not make distinctions.  In the case of the man at the beginning of the film, without further background, he could also have been an exiled politician who has been attempting to remove an oppressive regime from his home country.  Or a businessman who blew the whistle on corruption.  Or any number of things where making lots of enemies does not involve criminal activity, but rather stopping those with power (and money) from committing evil or violent acts.

Those are the kinds people who would have enough money to hire an assassin like Elektra Natchios, by the way.  And, when you think about it, those are the kinds of people who would hire Elektra to begin with.  The idea that anyone who believes in justice would be able to contact a benefactor with Warren Buffet-type money to hire a killer like Elektra to dispense “justice” (because the Law cannot or will not) has been watching too many episodes of shows like “The A-Team.”  That is fantasy.  And, in this case, it is puerile and sickening at its core.

This, however, is to be expected with a Frank Miller character.

But Wait, There’s More:

The “innocent victims” on the run:

Eddie Murphy's Chosen One Movie Does Better

When you realize that the race tropes found in movies like Star Trek: Insurrection would play out here, things can start to go wrong.  Fanbases will accuse you of Playing The Race Card, but it’s hard to come to any other conclusion.

In this case, it seems as if elements of the plot are mixed from The Professional and The Transporter, where in this case Elektra does not perform the duty in which she was supposed to be paid for – to kill Abby and her father Mark.  But that turns out to be a Red Herring, too; Stick “created” the job as test for Elektra.

Again, however, this is all under the auspices of Eastern Asian Martial Arts Zen Training.

By General Zod.

And, no, we’re not done.  We aren’t even close.

Versus the Marvel Multinational Supervillain Force:

No tropes here...And I own swampland in Florida that I want to sell...cheap.

When I first wrote the Action Heroine Handwave, I never imagined – or rather, I hoped against hope that sample size from which I was drawing from was not going to increase dramatically.

But then, I keep making the same mistake and watch films like this.  Making things worse is when I read about characters that are changed for the sake of…whatever.

For example, the “Physically Imposing Black Man” (played by former football/Japanese K-1 star Bob Sapp) is supposed to be Stone, who has incredible strength and is supposed to be invulnerable to most anything.  However, upon reading this, we find out that Stone wasn’t an Evil character at all.  In fact, if the link is correct, he actually helps Elektra and Daredevil from time to time.

But here he is, in this movie, as a Bad Guy.  Played by a Man of Color.

Or, how about:

I'm not sure what offends me more: The kidnapping trope straight from "Birth of a Nation" or the Deliberately Ambiguous Nationality of the Villain.

Then there is this guy, named Kinkou, which is Japanese for “Balance.”  This is supposed to be his character’s ability.  Whether or not he is actually Japanese is up for debate.  However, he is a top lieutenant of The Hand clan, which is supposed to be Japanese in origin.  He is played by Edison Ribeiro – and you don’t get the sense that his role is that of a WASP.

And he is supposed to be…Ninja.

The horror will continue.

The Gag Reflector:

Doctors use this scene to induce vomiting in patients. Interrogators use this scene to illicit confessions.

Maybe it is coincidence, but I had what turned out to be an acid reflux attack at this very frame.  After tamping down the acid, I went back 10 seconds on the film.  And rewatched this scene.

And it happened again.

The majority of female characters in these movies get saddled with the unnecessary plot point of having to kiss some random guy that we the audience could possibly find attractive.

The Bias of Culture:

I keep coming back to this…

And yet, Halle Berry's Catwoman is disparaged more than this.

The appropriation of pseudo-Asian martial arts by White heroes.  Not only full appropriation, but the top 3 martial artists (all “Heroes”) as portrayed in this film are all White.

We’re supposed to root for Elektra because…she is the one who has top billing.  We’re supposed to like Abby because she is the precocious little girl who gets under Elektra’s skin, because she is supposed to be just like Elektra, only with greater powers.  But then there was supposed this coup-de-grace, here…

We start (and finish) with this scene:

And this scene sent the sinking movie to bottom of the ocean...permanently.

Typhoid was supposed to be “The Treasure,” just like Abby is now.  But because Abby is the replacement, Typhoid is supposed to get an additional pleasure in killing Kid Buffy Abby, which was supposed to make us as the audience not like Typhoid – because the fact that she already works for the bad guys is obviously not enough.

This add-on for Typhoid and Abby comes off just as badly as Kingpin’s killing of Jack Murdock in Daredevil.  It was unnecessary for the movie and comes off as plotline overkill.

And, with this “reveal,” all of the prophecized are played by White Women.

And all of the “clans” involved are Japanese.

Whadda revoltin’ development.

Bonus Note:  Typhoid does not fight Elektra or Abbey with any martial arts skills, even though she is supposed to be in the same power class as both of them.  And she is the only female character associated with the Bad Guys.

More “flesh wounds.”

The Dapper Dan:

Find a Helpless Guy (No Kids) in These Films. I Dare You. I DOUBLE DOG DARE YOU!

I note in my review of Catwoman that male characters that play opposing female “heroes” are never, ever, helpless in the face of danger.  While they will often never fight the main villains of the story, they can hold their own against villains more powerful than they themselves are usually portrayed.  Even when the villains can fight the powered heroine to a standstill, these guys will usually find some way to either win, or injure the villain at hand.

Villain Undevelopment:

What was the point of these guys, again?

If Elektra was going to have any chance of succeeding, this was the arena in which the movie was going to have be resolved.  Instead, this area of development turned out to be a red herring; once Kigiri gets his father Roshi to let him go after Elektra, you never see this board or its members ever again, even though it is here that all of the actions against Elektra and Stick start here.  So when Kigiri and his lieutenant die, we don’t get Roshi making any decision whatsoever, even though it was needed to act as film closure.

Just like Daredevil, one day screenwriters are going to figure out just who the bad guy is and stick with them.  When you attempt to ramp up the action, you have to remember where you actually start, because it is where you need to finish in terms of the movie’s premise.

He has superspeed. And, supposedly, super-reflexes. But he dies by running into a knife. What's wrong with that picture?

This guy acts as this film’s Bullseye; he was to serve as Elektra’s final opponent…or was he?  At this point, the film no longer cared.  No theme or moral mirror had been settled upon by the writers of this film, so Kigiri and his motivations float away like the bedsheets in this battle.

The problem here is that Elektra does not grow at all out of this battle.  Nor does Kigiri’s motivations offer any kind of mirror whatsoever to Elektra’s actual quest.  This is mostly because Elektra does not have a change of heart regarding her mission because of a moment of moral clarity concerning her occupation.  Instead, because she saw her “targets” as something other than targets, she decides to protect them from The Hand, even though their assassins were being sent by Meizumi – and not by the people who paid her to “kill” them.

Because there is no tie-in with the villain, the protagonist fails.  Because the protagonist has no moral quest, the character never moves forward.  And because the protagonist is still working as a killer mercenary for hire, this character will never become a hero.  This is not even a Lonely Quest involved at the end, either.

On Hero Damage:

Not a single scratch, considering how often she's been hit.

In a typical action movie, a staple of the genre usually includes the main character being bruised, battered, or otherwise damaged or injured during the final confrontations of the film.  From Star Trek (2009), to Robocop, Spiderman, Die Hard, and even Superman, the hero’s struggle is physical as well as moral.  With few exceptions, a female action hero will never show injury.  Elektra continues the trend.  Despite being tossed around and being hit with blows that knock her far enough to be fair caught by an opposing team’s kick returner on a football field, this is her face at the end of the battles in question.  She also shows no wounds anywhere on her body.

Even Daredevil himself was never that fortunate.

But it continues a trope found in female centered action films that audiences are afraid of seeing women actually getting hurt.  Or that the only reason why people want to see women in these films is so that they can look pretty and do things while looking pretty.

It’s the combination that tends to make female-centered action films not do so well.  This element is the hardest to confront, and will be the hardest to change, because it runs up against everything that marketing wants.

Walk Away from the Film With These Facts:

This film appropriates Japanese customs.  Uses Japanese-style arts, powers, and weapons.  References Japanese origins.  Creates a pseudo-Japanese prophecy.  Hires Japanese men (mostly) as villains.

AND DOESN’T HAVE A SINGLE WOMAN OF COLOR IN THE ENTIRE FILM.

Not even Japanese.

As it appropriates Japanese accoutrements.

In Conclusion:

Maybe it’s just my age.  Or the repeated concepts found over and over in movies like this.  Maybe I’m just a curmudgeon that’s been in the business too long.  Or the frustration of the sameness.

Whatever the reason, I found Elektra to be not only a terrible movie on its face, but its execution of plot, display of theme, and dreariness of mood served to sink it before we actually get under way.

Whether intentional or not, Elektra is a pretty racist movie.  Elektra’s mentor is some random old White male created in the same vein as David Carridine’s role in Kung Fu.  All of the helpers of Elektra Natchios in this movie are White…and Male.  All of the people of the side of “Good” are White.  All of the Chosen Ones (Elektra, Abby, and Typhoid) are White and Female.  All of the Men of Color with more than 3 seconds of screen time are villains.  We get another Dapper Dan who is not in Distress.  The lack of Women of Color makes this movie completely deserving of any scorn heaped upon it.

Marvel’s movies, as I am realizing, are very poor at presenting a consistent theme.  They are also extremely poor at giving showcase to people of color.  The dark, dreary settings don’t help, as it tries extremely hard to be extra-special serious about itself.  The main character is an unrepentant killer…who relents because she believes that she’s found a kindred whom she doesn’t want to mirror her own life.  Everyone else, however, can just die.

I have no patience for this movie.  It is because this movie serves as a reminder that no matter how hard people of color work in the industry, there are still those who are not only racist, but will continue to find flags to hide behind.

Do not watch this movie if you have access to disintegrator weapons; you may be tempted to use them.

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9 Responses to Movies That Hate You: Elektra [2004, Jennifer Garner]

  1. like @ king says:

    The japanese theme stuff, is why i never cared for elektra. and any other comics that used it? like its lazy storytelling all around. and having jennifer garner didn’t help, even if she had a hit tv show. not everyone like her or favor her to for action roles. hints why the movie made $24 millions dollars only? catwoman used something that was egypt themed, but it atleast have something to with black peoples unlike elektra. useing another race customs to tell a smi-white story.

  2. class of fitness says:

    finally did one for elektra? so which movie you think was better. catowman or this one?

  3. Green Arrow says:

    Are you actually complaining because Electra was played by Jennifer Garner instead of Jennifer Aniston? We’re not talking about race recasting here, differences among white people you have to be some kind of Nazi to spot. That makes serious complaints about movies like Avatar the Last Airbender seem stupid by association.

    Cultural appropriation from Japan? Are you kidding me? Have you even seen anime? The Japanese don’t complain when Americans use martial arts, they go right back and stick in cowboys, movie monsters and knights into their stories. And that’s a lot healthier.

    • Heavy Armor says:

      Green Arrow,

      This would normally be the point where I tell you thanks for stopping by.

      Instead, however, I am offering you a homework assignment.

      Grab your passport and buy a ticket to London.

      Find 10 White Londoners. Tell them that they are not different from Prussians or Austrians. Note how many of them laugh at you and/or call you “A Typical American Idiot.”

      Record those results and take a trans-atlantic train to France. Find 10 White Parisians. Tell them that they are not different from the Dutch. Note how many of them either laugh your ignorance OR proceed to give you an education on French and Dutch culture.

      Next, take a quick jaunt to Berlin. Tell 10 random White Germans that they are the same as the Greeks. Take note of how many confront you over your rank American Stupidity.

      Simply put, you can repeat this experiment all over Europe – and the result is the same. Because this statement:

      differences among white people you have to be some kind of Nazi to spot…

      Is the very embodiment of the implementation of White Privilege in the United States.

      Secondly:

      If Jennifer Anastasakis had half of Jennifer Garner’s martial arts training, then why not? It’s not as if Garner herself were chosen for the role because she was the right actress. Since most of Hollywood believes as you do – that Whites look the same – they could have stuck Milla Jovovich in the role and would have gotten the same results. In fact, they did just that…and called the movie “Ultraviolet.”

      Oh, and third: Take note of something.

      The Japanese don’t complain when Americans use martial arts, they go right back and stick in cowboys, movie monsters and knights into their stories.

      More ignorance born of White Privilege. “Martial Arts” is a term which actually means “Fighting Discipline.” Any fighting discipline from anywhere around the Universe is considered a Martial Art. Even Boxing. But appropriation of culture has turned this term into “Asian Fighting Styles.” And, in your case, Japanese Fighting Styles.

      Your reading assignment for the day:

      http://asianfanatics.net/forum/topic/729591-cultural-appropriation/

      http://www.thedashingfellows.com/when-is-cultural-appropriation-cultural-appropriation/5490

      http://ezinearticles.com/?Cultural-Appropriation-in-American-Popular-Culture—A-Musing-of-Abuse-and-Amusement&id=2786952

      http://cardiff.academia.edu/PaulBowman/Papers/1523013/Keeping_it_Unreal_Researching_Mediatized_Martial_Arts

      http://www.8asians.com/2012/01/04/how-to-be-a-bad-asian-i-love-kung-fu/

      http://www.ejumpcut.org/archive/jc52.2010/SzetoChina/ (updated link)

      And, if you feel you’re ready for Graduate Level Cousework:

      Try again.

  4. Rick says:

    Drop the “red herring’ line or at least only use it once instead of 3 times in one article. I agree with you on the casting except for one thing. The reference to ” birth of a nation” is a reach…..and this is why: black people are NEVER cast as the bad guy in ANY movie. They are always, the police chief, the president, the mayor, etc ad nasuem. It’s an insult to all races of color to cast these characters on the premise of socila enginerring.Name me one movie besides the one that Denzel did, where the ‘enemy’ or source of conflict is the black guy>? The first movie that actually does this will be a trend breaker and probably get mad respect from the public….instead of the normal knee jerk reaction of ” haven’t they suffered enough”? It’s almost as cliche as having the first black character in every movie die first……

    • Heavy Armor says:

      Oh, this is easy:

      Drop the “red herring’ line or at least only use it once instead of 3 times in one article.

      Drop the condescending attitude, please.

      Name me one movie besides the one that Denzel did, where the ‘enemy’ or source of conflict is the black guy>?

      This is how I can tell how new you are around these parts.

      How about: This One?

      Or even: This One?

      Or the Rocky series (excluding, notably, Rocky 4). Or Demolition Man. Or No Holds Barred. Or American Gangster?

      I can keep this up for a while.

      And I also take notice on how you frame as “The Source of Conflict.” Because such a statement allows you to conveniently lop off movies where there are “Heroes” of Color that are mere tokens (such as your reference to the Police Chief, Mayor, President, ad nauseum – in which you also conveniently leave out that these characters of color are often portrayed as OBSTACLES to the [White] Hero) – but, more importantly, allow an attempt to ignore when there are no real Heroes of Color, but lots of space for Secondary Villains of Color before they are dealt with.

      Like in Commando. Or My Super-Ex Girlfriend. Or Hancock. Or X-Men: First Class. Or Sylvester Stallone’s “Cobra.”

      The reference to ” birth of a nation” is a reach.

      Really? Go watch the movie. I mean, all the way through. Understand that this movie was well-received. The tropes within that movie are still used, including here in Elektra, which is why I referenced the movie in the first place.

      Your filmography is way too short and way too shallow. There also doesn’t seem to be any point behind your comment except to complain about my calling out Hollywood’s bigotry. And you don’t do a good job of defending the status quo.

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